Watch Werner Herzog Eat His Shoe, Cooked by Chef Alice Waters (1980)

Les Blank made qui­et, affec­tion­ate films about quirky sub­jects. Many of his films paid homage to the music and food he loved—The Blues Accordin’ to Light­nin Hop­kins and Yum Yum Yum! A Taste of Cajun and Cre­ole Cook­ing. Blank was a lover of many tra­di­tion­al Amer­i­can musi­cal forms. Some of his movies are the only known filmed doc­u­ments of artists who are now gone.

Blank died April 7 at his home in Berke­ley, Cal­i­for­nia. He leaves behind a cat­a­log of films that seem small but in fact take on the biggest sub­jects: human­i­ty, love, com­mit­ment, joy and indi­vid­u­al­ism.

In Gap-Toothed Women, Blank cre­ates a sin­gu­lar love let­ter to women who shun ortho­don­tics and embrace their diastema (the gap between the two front teeth). The film explores the ori­gins of the belief that women with this fea­ture are unusu­al­ly lusty (think of Chaucer’s “gap-toothed wife of Bath”) and ends up cel­e­brat­ing uncon­ven­tion­al beau­ty.

One of his most inter­est­ing works devel­oped out of an inside joke. Blank was a friend of the direc­tor Wern­er Her­zog. Her­zog, in turn, had men­tored the young film­mak­er Errol Mor­ris, who was mak­ing his first film, Gates of Heav­en. In a char­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly dark attempt to be encour­ag­ing, Her­zog quipped that he would eat his shoe if Mor­ris com­plet­ed the film.

A man of his word, Her­zog lat­er ate the shoe in front of an audi­ence inside Berkeley’s U.C. The­ater. Food pio­neer Alice Waters cooked the shoe for five hours in gar­lic and wine. Blank filmed the event in 1980 and, true to his style, stepped back from the sub­ject and cre­at­ed a film about mak­ing hon­est art. You can watch it above.

Kate Rix writes about dig­i­tal media and edu­ca­tion. Vis­it her web­site: .

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Wern­er Her­zog and Cor­mac McCarthy Talk Sci­ence and Cul­ture

Errol Mor­ris: Two Essen­tial Truths About Pho­tog­ra­phy

Por­trait Wern­er Her­zog: The Director’s Auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal Short Film from 1986

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